Your Next: Is It Alpha Yet?

Let's help build a game to help build a game!

The last week of January is almost upon us! SOE is hosting an EverQuest Next Landmark Community Celebration next Friday and David Georgeson's twitter feed is awash with teases. Winter is here. Alpha is coming.

As this is potentially the last 'Your Next' before the servers go live, here is something to keep in mind:

We are going to be participating in the development of a game that will be used as a tool to build EverQuest Next.

What a privilege, and what an opportunity for all of us. If you had told me 15 years ago that this would be happening I simply would not have believed it. From the level of skepticism we have seen about the promises of both games, it seems there are many who still don't believe it.

In this new era of game development, where designers are turning to their players and communities more and more, we have the chance to help shape EverQuest Next into something really special. How appropriate that it should be the franchise that stood on the strength of its community and the boldness of its vision that once again leads the way.

So yes, I'm excited for alpha. It's felt like time has frozen recently as more and more tidbits of information are let out of the black box. This week I was particularly impressed with Developer Michael Mann’s Lead System Designer diary. If you missed it, you can watch it here and read our summary here

The Developer Diary took the form of a four-and-a-half minute video outlining some of the processes and goals behind the crafting system of EverQuest Next Landmark. While Mr. Mann was light on specifics as you would expect, the reasoning behind the decisions was clear. It is the overall design goals that have me more excited than ever for Landmark as a game, rather than 'just' a building tool.

While it makes total sense for all systems in a persistent online game to have a 'shallow end' for new players to wade in, the important aspect that was talked about was depth. Not complexity, making a very complicated system is easy: Keep adding elements until you forget where you started or it feels sufficiently like a job. Depth, on the other hand, is a notion that requires subtlety and knowing when the removal of an element improves the whole. “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away”. This quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry sums up how I feel about many suggestion threads on game forums, especially for MMOs.

The first system we learned about was the crafting benches we've been seeing recently. Through using crafting benches at player hubs we have been given a reason to be in the same place as other players during periods of downtime. Opportunities for natural social interaction are crucial to the longevity of persistent online worlds, so hopefully we'll have a reason to chat while we're there.

The second type of crafting station, the altar, gives us a reason to constantly explore the world. These stations will be spawned in and after being activated will only last a certain length of time before moving on. This is an interesting and potentially fun mechanic, for me its real strength is making explorer types valuable to crafter types.

While discussing procedural generation of items with stats that will be used to create the most desirable equipment, Mr. Mann emphasized the notion that players with 'knowledge and experience' would have an advantage. Using an augmentation system known as 'relics' players will be able to use the procedural system to their advantage. Whether this will translate to looking up a list of effects on a wiki is yet to be seen, but at least the goal is there for the developers to aim for. Allowing players to become more knowledgeable and skilled rather than just their characters is a great way to get players invested in a game and is an opportunity often overlooked.

So specific systems and mechanics aside, the design goals: Creating systems with depth, allowing opportunities for social interaction, finding ways to integrate and overlap different play styles, and allowing a players knowledge and experience to be a factor.

These are all elements that I would love to see in an online world. Perhaps I'm just dreaming; maybe my confirmation bias is causing me to see examples of what I'm looking for.

Very soon, we'll know for sure.


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